The issue of whether to install toll booths on major thruways in Namibia is not new. As soon as South Africa installed theirs some years back, many here wanted to follow lockstep. Studies were done and the idea was not profitable or feasible. Those championing toll roads could not statistically justify the costs involved in constructing, staffing and maintaining toll roads vs the number of cars on Namibia’s roads. Now, when the pressure is on at in any government agency to find money to subsidize shrinking budgets, the toll road story rises again.
Constructing and staffing toll roads in Namibia would be a nightmare. During a pandemic where people are asked NOT to move around so much, charging tolls is unprofitable and unsustainable. The Roads Fund Administration (RFA) uses South Africa with 57 million people; Zimbabwe of 14 million’ and Zambia of 17 million to propose that 2.5 million Namibia will earn money on tolls as those countries supposedly do. Watermelons cannot be compared to litchis to dictate actions. Namibia should not try to reinvent the wheel or follow SADC nations down the toll road rabbit hole.
How is it that now, toll roads are being presented as something new, researched and a money-spinner? The RFA has stated that toll road revenues would generate approximately N$3.9 billion over a five-year period. They claim this was proven by a study completed ‘months ago’ in 2020. We remain unconvinced.
We question that an independent study was done in this year of economic collapse, low road traffic and pandemic. It takes more than sending RFA officials to sit on roads in lawn chairs and count cars to do a cost/benefit analysis on the efficacy of toll roads.
Toll booths cost money and take massive planning and logistics.
Will the 24/7/365 toll collection be automated? If so, who polices these machines where people throw in coins or insert bills? Left on Namibia’s largely abandoned roads, such machines will be vandalized regularly. Tsotsi’s could wait for cars to stop and pay the toll and rob the vehicles. Security at toll stations will be a significant cost.
If the toll is paid manually, then the massive logistical and cost requirements for staff are needed each budget year. Well-maintained toll booths will need water and electricity, computers, CCTV, and real-time communications. This ICT infrastructure is theft-bait. Using them will require training and skills for those working in the booths. Collecting tolls will not require only a toll booth. Tollbooth workers will need facilities with toilets and resting rooms. There will need to be parking areas and potable water. This is costly.
Namibia is good at not factoring in maintenance and repair costs in budgets for building projects. This is why things remain out of service so often. Remember the speed recording CCTV cameras that were expensively installed all over the country. What a waste of money and time. Toll booths will fall into that same category.
We have a concern that any RFA study projecting N$3.9 billion in profits from toll booths over five years has been done in atypical circumstance. In 2020, there have not been the volumes of road traffic from the 1.5 million tourists that used to visit Namibia in pre-COVID years. That industry likely will not recover to its high heights of previous years until 2022.
The next concern is the proposed per car cost. How was that N$3.9 billion estimated? The cost per car will be a burden on unemployed, underemployed, and impoverished Namibians. Shall the government push the beleaguered and angry Namibian public further with ever more tax and regulatory demands?
Another concern is for the trucks that already pay hefty road user fees to enter Namibia. The licensing and registration for trucks are already high. A toll road cost for trucks will be added on to the cost of food and other supplies sold in Namibia. Has this been considered?
The unions, politicians and businesses that are opposing the toll road idea must continue their efforts. Namibia must not waste more time on something that was already researched (according to former Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein) and found wanting. The country must attend to items on the nation’s to-do list that make sense.